There is a lot that we get wrong when we rely on our impressions and do not look for the data. This is true in lots of different areas. Our brains are designed to take short cuts and our short cuts are biased towards error. Not only that but our errors are so consistent that sometimes they are predictable.

A few weeks ago there was an article in the New York Times on our beliefs about expertise. The author presents data collected from all over the country showing that money managers (e.g.,investment bankers, stock brokers) were not only alarmingly wrong in their predictions of the future but that had these financial experts taken the opposite action that they took the result would have been significantly higher yields.

The researchers hypothesize that the confidence of these professionals in their own predictions emerged in the absence of immediate feedback. The fascinating thing is that experts got bonuses when they were randomly successful and no one assessment was made for consistent high yield performance. Misses resulted in lower pay but it was random across the board. How to cope with that if you are paying an investment banker is for another site!

Still this matters for us. You are the executive director of your child’s life.  Are your strategies working consistently? We have excellant science that describes the negative interaction cycle between parent and child that can lead to aggressive parenting. It starts when a command is given repeatedly without consistent and effective feedback. Parents nag. We nag and children ignore. You ignore nagging every time you delete an e-mail appealing for your money. Sometimes it is even a command that you would like to obey: give money to support your party for the upcoming presidential election. Still, you ignore nagging. The next thing that happens is that the commands escalate into threats. We will lose without your support. You know why you support us and if we lose your support there is not us and your life will change significantly. That might get some of us to comply and it gets some children to comply — not all. The next thing that happens is up in the air. Too often it leads to an aggressive reaction on the part of the parent.

How do you get out? You collect data. When does your child comply with expectations? When does she not? What factors can you change? I hear alot of “we tried that, he doesn’t care about anything.” Take data. Use a consistent non-threatening, non-violent response every single time for a week. What does the data say? You might be right and need a new consequence but don’t switch too soon. You might also be wrong and be reacting to the latest random miss. Believe it or not giving up on a consistent strategy without data actually puts your child’s immediate desires in charge of her life. I am pretty sure that is not going to work out too well for any of you.